Obesity: a glimmer of hope from the grey sky of Leeds
In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight (Body Mass Index (BMI) > 25) representing about 39% of the population. Of these over 650 million adults were obese (BMI >30) meaning that 13% of the world population were obese in 2016 and the prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. In the same period, the prevalence of obesity of children and adolescents aged 5-19 has been multiplied by a factor of 7, reaching more than 124 million of children and adolescents in 2016.
Fundamental causes of obesity are well-known and related to the increase of fatty and sweet food together with a rise in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.
Overweight prevalence growth: 2000 - 2016
Fortunately, the UK city of Leeds (in the footsteps of Amsterdam in the Netherlands) has proven that the trend is not inevitable and that political actions might result in efficient outcomes. Indeed, in recent years, prevalence of obesity has declined by 6,4% (from 9.4% to 8.8%) for 4 to 5 years old children. It might look anecdotic but this is a real victory against what looked like an unstoppable train. To achieve this result, Leeds council focused its effort on this particular age group, by training all pre-school workers to promote healthy food and encouraging parents to cook meals and eat low-fat, low-sweet snacking. Additionally, it encouraged dancing in schools to make children more active.
We don’t know if this recipe can be efficiently reproduced elsewhere, but it is urgent to tackle this situation as weight gain is a major risk factor for non-contagious diseases. It leads to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers. And it is not for developed countries only. In Africa, the number of overweight children under 5 has increased by nearly 50 per cent since 2000.